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Under the Bonnet: with Stoneacre Motor Group’s Mark Zavagno

For this month’s Under The Bonnet interview, we sat down with Mark Zavagno, head of Digital Operations at Stoneacre Motor Group to hear his thoughts on the impending impact of Brexit, the move towards electric and autonomous vehicles and the rising popularity of car leasing.

Does the move into an online world concern you?

Yes and no. You can’t stop evolution and it has transformed many other retail businesses.

I think one of the hopes for dealers like ourselves is that the majority of customers still want to feel a vehicle, touch a vehicle, experience the vehicle before they purchase it.

Currently, only 8% of customers are happy to buy a car having never touched it (Peugeot, 2018). We’re starting to see more customers moving towards buying remotely – organising finance payments, agreements, plan exchanges – and then doing the final pick-up at the dealership. But that 8% is a growing market as well. It will be interesting to see where that bottoms out in the used car market. That will continue to grow but I don’t know what the endpoint will be.

In contrast, as far as the  new car side of the business is concerned, car leasing is as big – if not stronger – on a monthly search volume compared to car finance. It’s definitely become more popular. It’s been much more popular in the States and I think with the ’rent’ generation, for example a lot of people are looking at long term rent in terms of homes and mobile phones. People are looking at cars in the same way. So new car leasing will become increasingly more digitised, from beginning to end.

Are you seeing an impact of Brexit and what concerns does that raise?

I’d have to say no, because we saw the largest percentage growth we’ve ever had last year. But I think when Brexit is actually rubber stamped and finalised, dependent on what deal is finalised and agreed, then – absolutely – it could impact us. Anything associated with imports will obviously come at a higher tariff if a deal isn’t agreed, which means car prices will increase as a result, then you have issues around banking and service tariffs . I’m going to say ‘no’ for the last year but ‘yes’ depending on what the trade deal ends up being. I’m sure that would be the same response for most industries who deal with import and export.

With the introduction of electric vehicles and the move towards autonomous, do you see those two new vertices affecting the industry?  

It’s a scary thought – we’re close to seeing science fiction becoming part of reality. The technology will be expensive initially – we’ve seen that with hybrids – but if we look at the course of history when new tech comes out it doesn’t usually take that long for things to become affordable. I’m sitting on the fence a little bit. To begin with, it will massively disrupt everything, but when the tech becomes more mainstream I am not quite sure. I think AI is quite scary, in terms of human jobs and efficiencies of humans versus robots. Google have said they’re going to go with an AI approach first. It does frighten me but my hope is humans are an adaptable species and for every evolution there’s always been new jobs out the back of it.

You talked about embracing evolution. If you look back over the past few years, what’s the biggest change you’ve noticed?

Transparency is the big change within the industry. It’s a positive move. I think automotive retail was always quite closely guarded. A lot of automotive retailers have similar processes and they weren’t too keen on being forthcoming with information unless a customer was far into the purchase process. Now there’s a lot more information available. Google have helped form that change with the Google car buying moments, asking different questions during the purchasing journey. You’re there, you’re relevant, you’re quick. It’s a welcome change.

In what ways are you currently working with Oodle?

So Stoneacre are a little bit different to a lot of retailers. We don’t do a lot of digital distribution which goes against the grain a little bit. We are focussing more on the local market and we do quite well from it. We’ve got a strong local presence online which means it’s a lot more accessible for local people to use our products. We also have an online finance facility where our customers can secure their funding upfront.

This is where Oodle add value to our business as they have mapped their strategy to a ‘digital first focus’. As a retailer that means quicker underwriting decisions, less proofs, quicker throughput speed and quicker payouts – all the ingredients required to succeed in the digital space.

Do you see Oodle as a potential partner to help move your business forward in the future?

Massively. They have an automated-first approach and they are looking to refine the finance transaction process whilst focusing on eliminating consumer friction. Customers attention span is reducing because we live in a multi-device environment, so working with a company that wants to increase throughput speed by automating the affordability and proof process whilst limiting the amount of information required from the customer is a breath of fresh air and it gives us a greater platform to service the ever-changing consumer.

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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are that of the  individual who has been interviewed and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Oodle Car Finance*. .  The content of the blog is not intended to cause any offence to any individual or organisation. We make no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability or validity of any information contained within this blog and we will not be liable for any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use.